Basic Information Sheet: Gerbil



Photo credit: via Flickr Creative Commons

Natural history

The Mongolian gerbil or “jird” is a native of the Gobi desert, originating from Mongolia and Northern China.


Class: Mammalia

Order: Rodentia

Suborder: Myomorpha

Family: Muridae-The largest and most diverse family of mammals including Old World rats and mice, and gerbils.

There are 14 genera of gerbils.

There are 87 known species of gerbil including the Mongolian gerbil (Meriones unguiculatus).

Physical description

Including the tail, the Mongolian gerbil is 12-14 cm long. The head is broad and short, and the tail is covered in fur with a small tuft at the end.


Gerbils are omnivores. In the wild the diet consists of grasses and seeds with small amounts of insects. A captive diet consists of a high-quality pellet supplemented with small amounts of fruits and vegetables.


Gerbils are nocturnal, but some daytime activity normally occurs. Gerbils are sociable and generally do not fight when raised together.

Breeding pairs of gerbils are usually housed together for life.

Normal physiologic values

Temperature 99.3-100.8 F 37.4-38.2 C
Pulse 260-600
Respiration 85-160
Body weight Adult male 46-131 g
Adult female 50-55 g
Mean life span 2-4y
Sexual maturity 10 weeks 9-18 wks (M) 9-12 wks (F)
Gestation 22-26 days
Litter size 3 to 8
Weaning age 21-28 days
Target environmental temperature: 50-68 F 18-22 C
Target environmental humidity: 45-55%

Anatomy / physiology

  • Water-conserving physiology means that gerbils produce very dry feces and small amounts of highly concentrated urine.
  • Large, midventral, abdominal marking glands appear as orange-tan oval areas of alopecia. These sebaceous glands are androgen-dependent, enlarging at puberty and involuting when neutered.
  • The red blood cell lifespan is 10 days leading to pronounced basophilic stippling.
  • Mongolian gerbils are prone to high cholesterol levels.


  • Gerbils are relatively docile, and may be cupped in the hands.
  • Scruff individuals to provide manual restraint.
  • Never pick a gerbil up by its tail as the skin may slough off.

Small amounts of blood may be collected from the lateral saphenous vein.

Important medical conditions

Ovarian cysts, tumors
Squamous cell carcinoma

**Login to view references**



Banks RE, Sharp JM, Doss SD, Vanderford DA. Exotic Small Mammal Care and Husbandry. Durham, NC: Wiley-Blackwell; 2010.

Jackson TA, heath LA, Hulin MS, et al. Squamous cell carcinoma of the midventral abdominal pad in three gerbils. J Am Vet Med Assoc 209(4):789-791, 1996.

Mitchell MA, Tully TN. Manual of Exotic Pet Practice. St. Louis, MO: Saunders Elsevier; 2009.

Quesenberry KE, Carpenter JW (eds). Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery, 2nd ed. Philadelphia, WB Saunders, 2004.

To cite this page:

Pollock C. Basic information sheet: Gerbil. March 31, 2010. LafeberVet Web site.